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Hezbollah leader vows to get more weapons in wake of Israeli strike

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah said Syria will arm his group with “game-changing” weapons after an Israeli airstrike on Damascus on May 4 reportedly targeted a shipment of weapons bound for Hezbollah. (Al-Manar TV/EPA)

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah vowed Thursday that Syria would provide the Shiite Lebanese movement with even more powerful weapons to supplement those Israel destroyed in a series of airstrikes against Damascus over the weekend, but he refrained from threatening retaliation for the attacks.

In the first official response by Hezbollah to the strikes, Nasrallah said Syria will provide his movement with “game-changing” weapons that will “break the balance” of power in the region.

“Syria will give more weapons, better quality weapons, to the resistance than the resistance has ever had before,” he said in a speech broadcast by Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV station. “This is the strategic response of Syria.”

Nasrallah also pledged to provide moral and material support to an unspecified Syrian resistance movement that would attempt to recover the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967.

However, the speech appeared to rule out any immediate Hezbollah response to the attack, in which Israeli warplanes demolished targets said to include shipments of Fateh-110 missiles destined for the Shiite military and political movement. Hezbollah plays a commanding role in Lebanon’s government and also sustains a private army for the chief purpose of confronting Israel.

But Hezbollah has become increasingly embroiled in the war in Syria in recent months, dispatching hundreds and perhaps thousands of fighters to aid government forces battling the rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Analysts say the Syrian entanglement leaves Hezbollah in no position to risk opening up a second front against Israel.

“Hezbollah is bogged down in the Syria conflict, and it does not want a confrontation with Israel at this time,” said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

Syria has also not threatened any direct response to the strikes, which triggered a series of spectacular explosions on the landmark Mount Qassioun overlooking Damascus, indicating that the warplanes had hit a sizable weapons depot. Syrian activist groups have reported that dozens of Syrian soldiers died in the attacks, but Nasrallah said that only “four or five” were killed.

In an interview with the Agence France-Presse news service Thursday, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad offered a more robust warning, pledging that Syria would respond “immediately” to any Israeli attack, “without instruction from any higher leadership.”

“Our retaliation will be strong and will be painful against Israel,” he said, in a comment that appeared to escalate the stakes in the increasingly complex conflict that threatens to embroil the region.

Israel has not formally acknowledged carrying out the strikes, but it has made clear that it intends to halt transfers of sophisticated weaponry from Syria to Lebanon, where Hezbollah maintains a sizable arsenal of rockets capable of hitting Israeli cities, but not the kind of precision-guided missiles reportedly targeted by the airstrikes.

Suzan Haidamous in Beirut contributed to this report.

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.

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